Increasing the employability of doctoral graduates

Newly promoted doctoral graduates often have difficulty finding a job meeting both their expectations and skills, either within the academic world or in the business world. In order to increase their employability, doctoral graduates, employers and universities must all be prepared to act. These are some of the conclusions in a thesis recently presented at LiU.

Eloïse Germain-Alamartine. Eloïse Germain-Alamartine outside the A-building at Campus Valla, Linköping University. Photo credit: Mikael Sönne

Overqualified

Researcher Eloïse Germain-Alamartine herself had a somewhat similar experience when, with two newly awarded Master’s degrees (in business administration and civil engineering), she took a job in industry but quickly realized she was overqualified for it. In fact, it was this experience that prompted her to return to academia and carry out doctoral research on highly-skilled workers and job mismatches.

In her thesis: Doctoral education in the entrepreneurial university: enhanced employability?, she investigates the difficulties that newly promoted doctoral graduates experience on the labour market. In addition, she shows how employability is linked to the opportunities made available to doctoral students by entrepreneurial universities, such as LiU.

Eloïse Germain-Alamartine.

In one of the five articles that comprise the thesis, Eloïse Germain-Alamartine investigates newly promoted doctors who have recently found employment outside the academic world. In one specific region, as many as one third had not used their doctoral degree to find employment.

“I was surprised that it was so many. But some employers prefer to employ people with Master’s degrees, rather than doctoral graduates. Their salaries are lower, and they are considered to be more flexible. Those with doctorates are sometimes seen as too specialised. Sometimes, doctoral graduates are even described with the derogatory term ‘lab rats’.”

Win-win

In order to increase their employability, the individuals themselves, the institutions of higher education and the employers can all make important contributions. (The recommendations made by the thesis are presented at the end of this article). Eloïse Germain-Alamartine also argues that entrepreneurial universities can play a significant role by collaborating with companies and other types of organizations, arranging job fairs, and cultivating personal networks.

If doctoral studies and the requirements of the business world can be better matched, this will also benefit the universities.

“The universities will strengthen their socioeconomic impact if they educate a workforce that is truly in demand from companies. This is clearly a win-win situation for all parties”, says Eloïse Germain-Alamartine.

Increased competitiveness

A proud PhD-student with her thesis.

One of the studies in the thesis shows that research parks, such as Science Park Mjärdevi in Linköping, can play an indirect, but important role for the opportunities of doctoral graduates to obtain employment. This is because they function as intermediaries, and create places where doctoral students and employers can meet and get to know each other.

In a broader perspective, Sweden and other countries have much to gain by increasing the employability of doctoral graduates. Relative to its population, Sweden has more doctoral graduates than, for example, Spain, but they constitute a resource that is not fully exploited.

“I haven’t looked at this specifically, but it is expected, in our knowledge-based economies, that industrial competitiveness increase if the level of education of employees increases. And many companies also work with research similar to that carried out in the universities”, says Eloïse Germain-Alamartine.

Three main recommendations

The thesis gives clear advice to universities, newly promoted doctoral graduates and employers. Eloïse Germain-Alamartine hopes that the results of her research will in this way lead to practical benefits.

Universities: adapt the contents of doctoral education to the needs of employers, and advertise the education such that companies and other organisations realise its value.

Doctoral graduates: Investigate career opportunities and the requirements of employers. Act as an entrepreneur and supplement doctoral studies with skills that you may lack.

Employers: Collaborate with universities and make them aware of your needs, in order to influence syllabus and specialisations.

Footnote: entrepreneurial universities can briefly be defined by several characteristics: they receive research grants from several sources; the management takes responsibility for ensuring that both strategy and operations are entrepreneurial; innovation offices and research parks are located close to the university; excellent research environments receive increased support, and an integrated culture of entrepreneurship permeates the complete organisation.

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